We had toyed with the idea of flying back and forth, but of course my husband couldn't pass up the opportunity to make this a road trip, detouring through two National Parks on the way.
Our first day we left Riverton and drove to Great Basin National Park. It was only a little over three hours away. We pulled into the Visitors Center, which was closed for the season, but a sign said the bathrooms were still open, and an odor wafting up from the backseat told us we would be needing to change a diaper. I pulled Vivian out of the carseat and discovered that less than four hours in, and she had already blown out her first outfit. Ordinarily I handle these situations, but this time I passed her off to Justin and told him to deal with it. A part of me was kidding, but when he didn't resist and just hauled her into the men's room with him, I wasn't about to stop him and fight for the opportunity to be on the cleanup crew. I stood outside reading the informative little nature signs posted out there. I read all of them. Then I took a bathroom break. Then I found a sign I had missed on my first pass, and read all of that. Then I returned to the car to see if perhaps Justin had emerged from the men's room while I was taking my bathroom break. He hadn't. Then I barged into the men's room to find out what was taking so long. I walked in to find my baby laying on a changing table inside the stall, laughing and talking to herself. Her dad was at the sink washing his hands, and each individual piece of soiled garment was neatly hung across the top of the stall wall. It is still unclear to me why it took so long, but I suspect that I would have been very amused to have watched that whole process unfolding.
There is very little to do in Great Basin National Park during the winter. It's too cold to hike, and a lot of the roads were already closed in anticipation of snow. However, Lehman caves, located inside the park, are open year round. There is one tour a day in the winter, and Justin had rushed us out the door early that morning to make absolutely sure that we were there in time.
The caves were great, but I found that I vastly preferred our experience exploring Carlsbad Caverns last year. That's primarily because at Carlsbad they just kind of turn you loose to do your own touring of the place, but in Lehman caves you're stuck on a guided tour. Early on in the tour I developed a dislike for our tour guide. She was an elderly lady, who wanted to demonstrate to us all how dark and quiet the cave is without any lights. So she turned off all the lights. That's all fine and well, but then she kept them off for several minutes while she launched into a lengthy lecture on light pollution. After about 30 seconds in the pitch black Vivian started to cry, and rather than turn the lights back on and cut her little speech about light pollution short, our guide simply shouted at the group over Vivian's crying. So I had very little use for her from the get-go. Once the lights were turned back on Vivian settled back down again, and was fine for the rest of the tour. In general the caves were great, and I would recommend them to anyone who makes their way into the area.
|Vivian and I trying to stay to the back of the tour.|
Our drive to Death Valley the next day was significantly longer, but turned out to be quite picturesque. We drove straight into the park, and coming from the Nevada side you wind up making a drop from about 3,300 feet to several feet below sea level extremely fast. When we arrived at the Visitor's Center Vivian needed to eat and I needed to sit and wait for my insides to catch up to what had just happened. Mostly it was my sinuses which ended up making an audible squeaking noise as they released a bunch of pressure. It was very weird, but after that I felt great and we rushed out of there to see a few things before the sun went down (it set a little before 4:30 that day).
We drove through Artist's Palette first, and then headed over to Badwater Basin.
We stopped on our way in that day for a picture by the sign
After that we left Death Valley and returned to Beatty, Nevada, which touts itself as home to the gateway to Death Valley, the largest candy store in Nevada, and the Shady Lady Ranch. We did visit the candy store, which was disappointingly small, (and I have a hard time believing that something bigger doesn't exist in Vegas) and overpriced. We checked into the Stagecoach Inn and Casino. They had offered us a huge military discount, so we had gone with that one over our other options which all seemed suspect and overpriced anyway. I would describe this hotel as very "no-frills." For instance, there was no clock in our room. There were also no decorations of any sort in the room, or even the standard pen and pad of paper. It did however seem to be pretty clean. This hotel also did not offer a free breakfast, but there was a Denny's restaurant attached to the casino that was prominently advertised at every turn and on each piece of paper the hotel issued us. After multiple failed attempts to connect to their allegedly free wi-fi, we gave up and ate at the Denny's rather than trying to find a place to eat in town.
The next morning we stopped at the Rhyolite Ghost Town on our way back into Death Valley.
|It was super bright outside, but the only sunglasses we had with us were these pink ones of mine, which fortuitously fit nicely over top of Justin's glasses.|
and then continued on to our next stop, which was Zabriskie Point.
Next we drove to Devil's Golf Course.
Then we did a short hike up Golden Canyon. This was a bit of a controversial decision for us. I believed that we had agreed the night before that we were ill-prepared to do any hiking, whereas somehow Justin believed that exactly the opposite conclusion had been reached. As a result I hiked in blue jeans that were way to snug and uncomfortable for this sort of thing, and I regretted wearing them, pretty much the entire hike. Additionally, Vivian has packed on several pounds since our last hike, but is still just a tiny bit too short to be transitioned out of the baby bjorn into the ergo carrier we have purchased. Very early on into this hike I swore to Justin that I will not do another hike with her until she is big enough for that ergo. She's way too heavy to carry comfortably in the bjorn anymore. Thankfully it was a very short hike, and mostly in the shade, since we yet again failed to pack a hat for her.
|We had to improvise a little since I still don't entirely trust the sunscreen on her skin.|
After that we stopped by some sand dunes, but they looked crowded and less impressive than we had hoped, so we never even exited the car.
Due to our inability to connect to the internet the night before we hadn't done a lot of reading on which way is best to exit the park. I kind of assumed that we'd go out through Baker and get on the 15, but Justin pointed out there was another way that sent us through San Bernardino, and I assumed that he had done his research on this. What I didn't know is that he hadn't, and had been planning on doing that at the hotel. So we set off in the direction of San Bernardino, and after about an hour of driving in the most desolate place I have ever been, we had still not left the park. We were also in a portion of the park that Justin described as "super ugly." I could not disagree. Usually there is some redeeming feature to every area...but we never found one out there. It felt like we were driving out there all day. All I can really definitively say is that it was in no way a faster route, and at one point I found myself on a two-lane highway in nowhere San Bernardino County for an hour trapped behind a convoy of truckers. Regardless we finally arrived at our destination, and met up with Justin's family in Riverside where they had already checked us into a room in Courtyard Marriott. After Ely and Beatty it felt like we were staying in a 5-star resort for the rich and famous.
The next morning we visited Justin's Aunt Melinda and her family and we all drove into Newport Beach for lunch, where we failed to take any pictures. Not sure how that happened. For dinner we met up with Justin's grandpa and his wife in Tustin. Vivian got to meet her only living great-grandfather.
|She was endlessly fascinated with his beard.|
The next day we all went to Disneyland. Vivian obviously couldn't ride too much, but with all the family there I never missed out on anything I wanted to ride. There was always someone willing to take a turn staying off with her.
|Exiting the Buzz Lightyear ride|
She was great, but Disneyland is a lot for a little person to take in all at once, so we ended up having to leave early both nights, but truthfully she lasted later than I anticipated both times.
On Wednesday morning we said goodbye to Justin's family and made our way back to Utah. This time we went the standard route on I-15, resisted the urge to explore a few detours and were back in plenty of time for Thanksgiving the next day with my family at John and Michelle's house.
It's always good to be back home, but in what I suppose has become our tradition, we're already starting to talk about where we want to go next. Since it's never too late to say what you're thankful for, I'll say that this Thanksgiving I am especially grateful for a husband whose not just a willing, but an eager partner in all of these little outings, and I'm thankful for our adorable little baby girl, and I'm thankful that we have had all this time together this year, and the means and health to make it memorable. Happy late Thanksgiving!